Name: Barry Cordero
- Education: B.S. Bioengineering, University of California in San Diego, 2007
- Target Audience: Middle School
Someone once told Barry Cordero that he wasn't cut out for college. Well, he didn't listen and the biomedical industry is better because of it. Read more to find out what ignited Cordero's interest in engineering!
What is your job?
I wish that was an easy question. In the biomedical industry scientists, physicians and engineers work together to invent, develop and test medical devices that improve people's lives. Sometimes device concepts come from a doctor and sometimes the concept comes from a scientist or engineer. I tried a lot of different professions in medical devices - starting with quality engineering, then manufacturing, project management, new product development and supplier development. I'm currently in a full time process improvement role and teaching and mentoring is the vast majority of what I do. I train engineers and non-engineers problem solving techniques so they are equipped to strategically solve problems that come up every day at work.
Why did you choose this field?
I wasn't really confident in what I wanted to do in college and I wasn't sure that I could afford it. I didn't know a lot about financial aid at the time. So, I went into the Navy and ended up working closely with a lot of engineers and helped with a lot of engineering work. I learned to operate the electrical systems on nuclear aircraft carriers: particularly the USS Nimitz and took a lot of engineering courses along the way - but, my true passion was helping people. When I was done with the Navy, I needed to figure out how to merge my engineering training with my passion for helping people and Biomedical Engineering was an obvious connection. I ended up taking pre-engineering courses at a community college for a year and later transferred to UC San Diego. Even though I still thought about being a doctor (the profession I wanted to pursue since I was 5), I really liked the idea of being on the front line of new technology and innovation - so I graduated with a bioengineering undergraduate degree. Engineering degrees are unique in that you can be very successful without a Master's or PhD. Engineering is a great investment, it is widely considered a professional degree without the extra school that most professional degrees require.
Explain what an average week or project at work is like for you.
Average week - I wish there was such a thing. Working in process improvement, I spend a vast majority of my time teaching or coaching around problem solving. I teach anyone from entry level engineers and front line assembly workers to senior directors to solve problems, organize people and analyze projects. In the end choosing the right tool and following the right process is what matters. It's very empowering to be able to solve problems, rather than standing there helpless. It helps empower the problem solver and allows them to stay focused on our mission.
What do you like best about your job?
I like that Medtronic is focused on innovation and devices that help people live better. The company has a very science and engineering heavy staff. I work with some of the smartest people in the world, which is kind of cool. The big thing that keeps me engaged is patient visits. Once a quarter we have town-hall meetings where patients who have been impacted by Medtronic come into our office and talk about the improvements medical devices have made to their lives and how thankful they are. The coolest thing about devices, as opposed to pharmaceuticals, is that they're either on or off. When they are on - patients can take control of their lives and function normally. Medical devices literally give them back their lives with the flip of a switch. The town-hall experience is very rewarding and listening to patients' stories is re-energizing.
When you were a kid, did you like science, engineering and/or math?
I wanted to be a doctor from the age of 5 because I liked helping people and I always thought biology was fascinating, but the first subject I really loved was physics - it made me start liking math. I was lucky that I had a young teacher that was really excited about physics, and in turn he excited us about the subject. Just by understanding the basic laws of physics, we could come up with problems or experiments and use math to solve them. That was really the first time I was excited about anything in school. I was not a great student - I was an in all honors classes, but had a C average.
Was there a moment when you knew that you wanted to go into engineering? Tell us about it.
I didn't know what engineering was until I was in the Navy. I didn't know that engineering was lucrative and you could earn twice as much with an engineering undergrad degree than other degrees - so it ended up being a good path for me to take. But I decided to go into engineering when I learned about bioengineering and medical devices. When I discovered how engineering is pretty much everywhere, it seemed like a good field to go into.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an engineer?
I think it was my second to last year of college. I was doing way too much and trying to keep all juggling balls in the air. I was doing research on artificial knee joints, just started an internship at Abbott, and 16 units in college at the same time. Not failing those couple of quarters in college was my biggest challenge. What benefitted me the most was learning how to develop business skills and social skills through SHPE, which is something that college doesn't often provide Engineers. Being successful is not just about being book-smart. You have to know how to interact with people, lead projects, maintain timelines and develop budgets - you have to be well-rounded and I got all of that from Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. So I never really focused on getting a 4.0 GPA, but instead on being a well rounded engineer. This helped me get through college.
What inspired or convinced you to get involved in your field?
I would be lying if I said someone inspired me. I'm more of a self-motivated person and if someone tells me I cannot do something, it makes me want to do it more. My high school guidance counselor suggested I go to trade school, so that motivated me to apply for college. I guess having someone tell me I can't go to college made me want to go. When I was waiting on college acceptance letters, I decided to apply to the Navy and once I was in the Navy I started to learn engineering. No one inspired me - my interest in this field is from my own self-motivation.
Do you have any suggestions for how kids in middle school can get practical experience in your field?
SHPE has junior chapters that are clubs for kids interested in science and engineering. We can open a chapter anywhere - we just need a teacher to sponsor the club. We also have science nights, Noche de Ciencias, which are night-time family focused events at specific times in the year where kids get to do hands-on activities related to science and engineering, while their parents learn about financial aid and how their kids can get into college. There are other organizations that offer similar outreach activities like the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). What I like to get all the kids in my family are these kits - Into to Electricity, Intro to Physics and Intro to Chemistry - they provide lots of tools for kids to use to create their own experiments and inventions. They are my favorite at-home tool for introducing kids to these subjects.
Which courses would you recommend to incoming high school students?
Definitely take Algebra I freshman year so that you can complete Geometry and Algebra II and Pre-Calculus before graduating. If available, also take Calculus I to get ahead of the game. It is also important to take Chemistry and Physics but a good rule of thumb isthe more math the better.
Are there exciting things happening in your field that could involve kids who will be entering the field in 10 to 15 years?
In the operating room, there is a lot more reliance on computers and robotics. The medical industry is moving more and more towards less invasive surgeries and computers allow them to do this. The less invasive a surgery is the quicker people recover from it. Another big thing will be how long our devices last. Making devices that are more durable, more cost effective and more sustainable is important.
Cordero in a Heartbeat
- Barry is the National Vice President of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) which Medtronic sponsors.
- One of the medical devices Barry is most proud of contributing to is a drug-eluting Stent - which is a device for keeping arteries open for people at risk of heart failure.
- Barry grew up in the Chicago area and has both Mexican and German heritage.
- Barry's has at least 3 immediate family members benefiting from orthopedic and cardiac medical devices.
- The Department of Labor expects employment in the field of biomedical engineering to grow at 21 percent through 2016. The average salary of a biomedical engineer is $79,610.00, based upon experience.
- Medtronic, the company Barry works for, has been recognized not only for being the largest biomedical company in the world, but for leveraging existing technologies that are used in other industries. The result - decrease in product development cost and time. Notably, Medtronic adapted an insulating material developed by NASA for use in a heart device. Amazing!
- Minneapolis, MN is to the biomedical industry what New York, NY is to global commerce. If you are pursuing a biomedical career definitely check out the Twin Cities.
(adapted from DOL.com, Medtronic.com)
Lucrative - Profitable or to make lots of money
Pharmaceuticals - Legal drugs (not street drugs)
(adapted from dictionary.com)